Clay County was the home of the Timucua and Seminole tribes before Spanish missionaries came to the area. The county was formed in 1858 and named after Henry Clay of Kentucky, who was a major political figure at the beginning of the 19th century. During the county’s first official year of existence, Middleburg was its seat.
Middleburg was originally named Clark’s Ferry after a man who operated a ferry in the area in the 1820s. The town quickly became an important hub of water transportation. In the 1820s and ’30s, it was an entry port to the state’s interior. Agriculture, timber harvesting, and tobacco and cotton farming were other major industries.
In 1835, a war erupted between the Seminole natives and the settlers. During the war, the construction of roads and clearing of land further aided the area’s development. Several years after the Civil War, Middleburg grew even more thanks to the introduction of the steamboat. The town’s growth slowed in the early 20th century, but picked up again with the establishment of nearby Camp Blanding during World War II. Middleburg’s residents are dedicated to preserving its historical richness.
Outdoor recreation is a major draw in Middleburg. Residents participate in water sports, fishing, hunting and bird-watching along St. Johns River and Black Creek. Several parks in town enhance the outdoor experience. The 10-acre Hunter-Douglas Park has picnic areas, a softball field, basketball and tennis courts, a playground and a pavilion. Main Street Park, adjacent to the Main Street Boat Ramp near Black Creek, features three pavilions, two fishing piers, a playground and an 825-foot boardwalk. Nearby Omega Park, located on CR 218 near SR 21, is a favorite league and tournament area for ball games.
Regional recreational areas provide even more options. The Florida Trail – a favorite hiking and backpacking trail – travels through the southwestern part of the county from Camp Blanding to Keystone Heights. The Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area and Jennings State Forest, both in Middleburg, are ideal recreational havens as well. Jennings State Forest houses rare plants and more than 15 natural biological communities. Residents pursue hiking, biking, canoeing, horseback riding and hunting at the forest. The 2,000-acre Gold Head Branch State Park, near Camp Blanding, is perfect for swimming, camping, hiking and canoeing. Locals enjoy staying at the park’s lakefront cabins. The greyhound track at nearby Orange Park is another exciting attraction.
Residents and visitors enjoy a number of cultural sites and events. Several museums in nearby Green Cove Springs – such as the Clay County Historical Museum and the Railroad Museum – provide a glimpse into the area’s unique past. Middleburg and Clay County host many annual events. These include the Railroad Festival, Festival of the Lakes, St. Johns Riverfest, Soul Food Festival and Middleburg July 4th Parade.
Several colleges and universities including Florida Community College, St. Johns River Community College, University of North Florida and University of Florida are within approximately 40 miles of Middleburg.
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